Transmobilities: mobility, harassment, and violence experienced by transgender and gender nonconforming public transit riders in Portland, Oregon

Amy Lubitow, Miriam Abelson, JaDee Carathers & Maura Kelly

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Lubitow, A. , Abelson, M. , Carathers, J. & Kelly, M. (1). Transmobilities: mobility, harassment, and violence experienced by transgender and gender nonconforming public transit riders in Portland, Oregon. Gender, Place & Culture, 24(10), 1398–1418.

Gender minorities , harassment and discrimination , non-hegemonic mobilities , public transporation , transmobilities , urban mobility

This research endeavors to fill a conceptual gap in the social science literature on gender, public space, and urban mobilities by exploring how transgender and gender nonconforming individuals experience public transit. Although previous research has surveyed gender minorities about harassment and discrimination in a range of environments, little is known about the quality or content of these experiences. Drawing from 25 interviews with transgender and gender nonconforming individuals in Portland, Oregon, this article finds that gender minorities experience frequent harassment while engaging with the public transit system. We articulate the concept of transmobilites to describe the ways that transgender and gender nonconforming individuals experience a form of mobility that is altered, shaped, and informed by a broader cultural system that normalizes violence and harassment towards gender minorities. We conclude that gender minorities have unequal access to safe and accessible public transportation when harassment is widespread, normalized, and when policies prohibiting discrimination remain unenforced on urban public transit.

Main finding
The public transit experience of transgender and gender non-conforming individuals is characterized by high levels of stigma, violence, and harassment. When using public transit, being a transgender or gender nonconforming person entails a different kind of mobility and the adoption of certain tactics that require constant vigilance, awareness, and attention to other transit users. For example, participants would regularly attempt to divert attention away from themselves and shift the times they used public transit. This mobility, termed and introduced by this article as "transmobility," is informed by multiple layers of oppression such as cissexism, racism, heterosexism, ableism, and classism. Trans women, trans-feminine, and visibly gender nonconforming riders saw more harrassment on public transit than other participants, particularly trans riders of color and disabled people. In contrast, transgender and gender non-conforming participants who appear white, gender conforming, masculine, and able-bodied experienced less harassment. The article calls for transit agencies to educate and train their staff to avoid perpetuating harassment, the use of gender neutral language, and for education campaigns for transit riders.

Description of method used in the article
Qualitative interviews were conducted with 25 transgender and gender non-conforming persons who frequently use public transit systems in Portland, Oregon. Fliers were distributed through social media and local networks for gender and sexual minorities to recruit participants, with priority given to non-white potential participants in order to increase the diversity of the convenience sample. The interviews lasted roughly 40 minutes and featured questions on participants’ typical transit usage, reflections on gender presentation, experiences of harassment, and strategies for managing potential harassment. Open-ended questions were asked so that participants could reflect upon their race, class, or disability on their own terms. The researchers used pseudonyms and maskings to protect the identity of the participants. Finally, the interviews were coded utilizing Dedoose qualitative coding software for emergent themes such as the experiences of gendered oppression and privilege, intersecting systems of oppression, and strategies to manage discrimination. All volunteers received monetary compensation in the form of a $25 grocery gift card.

Policy implications

Organising categories

Crime and Aggression
Physical types
Transportation Hubs
Geographic locations